A SERIES of coincidences brought more than 300,000 people to the Border after World War II.
The events have been documented in a book and an exhibition entitled Memories in My Luggage, launched at Bonegilla Migrant Centre yesterday.
Fred Glasbrenner was one of 13 German migrants to tell his story.
When he first arrived in Australia aged 19 all he had was a bike he had made from scrap metal.
In just six weeks, Mr Glasbrenner rode from Darwin to Melbourne for the 1956 Olympic Games, landing him on the front page of Melbourne newspaper The Argus.
“We had planned to travel the world but we got stuck in Melbourne because we loved it,” Mr Glasbrenner said.
“After three months the immigration department came and said ‘what the hell are you still doing here, you should be gone’.
“Three months later they came again, we told them we loved it here then we became permanent residents — that’s how it was in those days.
“This country was built by migrants and anyone who worked was welcome, it has done so much for me.”
It is estimated descendants of Bonegilla residents number 1.3 million.
The exhibition, which took a year to put together, shows photographs and the belongings of some of these migrants.
Exhibition co-ordinator and German migrant Sabine Nielsen said it was a fitting place for the launch.
“A lot of the migrants I interviewed for the book and others I have spoken to always mention Bonegilla, so many people have an incredible connection to the place, so we thought it would be perfect,” she said.
“It’s a time that needs to be remembered and I wanted it from eyewitnesses, four of the people in the book have passed away since so it is really special to have their stories recorded.”
About 60 people travelled from as far as Melbourne and Canberra for the launch.
Honorary German consul general Michael Pearce said he was glad to have had the opportunity to visit the site.
“I hear about Bonegilla all the time and the thousands who passed through here, I have met many of those people and their descendants but to come here for the first time is a great experience,” he said.
“Some of the stories can be intensely moving and you understand the difficulties and tragedy people have encountered in their lives and the chances that led them to get here.”
The exhibition is open until January 25, and more information can be found at memoriesinmyluggage.com.au.